The Denison Planning and Zoning Commission started work Tuesday on updating the city’s zoning ordinance for household care and community homes for the disabled and elderly. This update will bring the city’s code more in line with state and federal guidelines regarding housing laws.

The update would allow smaller home nursing, mental health, and drug and alcohol rehabilitation residential programs of less than six residents to be, by right, under most zoning districts. During Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners called for a public hearing to discuss the updates to city code. The hearing will be held at a future P&Z meeting.

“The reality is there probably are several of these arrangements in single family neighborhoods already,” Denison Development Services Director Gabe Reaume said. “You wouldn’t know if you just drove by.”

Under the previous code, these developments would often be allowed with conditional use permits. Many of these programs previously took place in existing neighborhoods, he said. The city has recently received permit applications for a new home that will likely house a similar program, based on its six bedrooms and six bathrooms.

“It is being constructed as a single family house, but if you look at the design, it would support this kind of use,” Reaume said.

The development services director said the move by the city comes following a lawsuit last year against the city of Fort Worth when zoning requests for similar residence programs were denied. These denials ultimately culminated in a lawsuit against the city by the U.S. for violation of fair housing laws and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Reaume said by using the same standard as the state, the city will be consistent in its zoning for other cities across the state.

Denison Interim Planning Director Phyllis Jarrell said the changes ultimately are meant to reflect the rights of individuals in these programs to find adequate housing. As some conditions, including mental health and substance abuse, are qualified as disabilities, these rules would protect these individuals from being zoned out of adequate housing.

“They have the rights to live in single-family neighborhoods,” she said.

These programs would still need to go through state and federal registration, including regulation on level of care that each program is able to offer. Local building codes, including requirements for residents who would not be able to evacuate in the event of an emergency, would also apply to these programs, Reaume said.

Under the changes, programs that would like to house additional residents would be able to request a variance with the city, similar to Denison’s ongoing appeals board. However, under this program the applicant would not need to show hardship.

“It offers a recourse for the city to determine the need of the request,” Reaume said.